Spoto goes above and beyond to keep athletes academically eligible



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Thu. July 23, 2015 | Kelly Parsons

Anne Caparaso, the wife of Spoto's football coach, works with player Anthron Dicks during a tutoring session. She has spent her past few summers helping keep the football players academically eligible.A  poster reminds Spoto athletes of the new NCAA GPA requirements during a tutoring session. Incoming freshmen must have at least a 2.3 GPA, in addition to other academic requirements, to play.Thanks to extra tutoring while at Spoto High, Geronimo Allison has gone on to play Division I ball and will be graduating from college this year.

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We’ll be examining athletes and academics throughout the 2015-16 school year.

RIVERVIEW — On most summer days, Dale Caparaso spends his mornings alone at home. 

During June and July, the classrooms at Spoto High School — where Caparaso has taught special education and coached football since 2008 — are dark, out of use until school begins again Aug. 25.

But tucked in the back corner of the school’s front office on a recent Wednesday morning, a room full of Spartans were hard at work.

Caparaso’s wife, Anne, tutored 10 students, going around to each to help with online lessons for five hours before football workouts began. Some players were learning algebra, others biology. On these mornings, she must be a jack of all trades. 

Dale is often told by his wife and stepdaughter Ally Tragesser, a University of Florida student who also helps with tutoring, not to show his face until football practice begins.

“If the kids know I’m on campus,” Dale said, “it’s now football time.”

And before that can happen, the academics must be in order. 

For seven years, starting after Caparaso took the job at Spoto, Anne — or “Miss Anne,” as the students call her — has spent at least four mornings a week during the summer tutoring football players, most of whom struggle with keeping the 2.0 grade-point average required to remain academically eligible in high school. 

Anne, 47, an evaluator in the Hillsborough County School district, would normally have this time off. The Caparasos know, though, some of the Spartans are in desperate need of her aid.

Since he’s been at the school, Dale said, Spoto has had issues with keeping football players eligible. So it didn’t take him long to realize there needed to be some kind of academic support program for the team. Starting with the class of 2016, athletes will need at least a 2.3 GPA (and corresponding standardized test score) to play NCAA sports, making the academic support all the more necessary — especially for his players, like athlete Terence Williams, who have futures at the next level.

On that Wednesday morning, Williams stared at his computer screen, completing math problems for his online class. But for a minute, he pulled up a YouTube video of a football game and began silently watching.

“Terence!” Tragesser called out. “Get back to work.”

He immediately clicked out and returned to his assignment.

Keeping kids focused on school when they’re not required to be is challenging, Anne admits. But she knows what might happen if she didn’t try.

“If football is a vehicle that will help motivate them and keep them moving in the right direction, keep them busy, off the streets and out of trouble,” she said, “I’ll put up with a little silliness.”

• • •

When Dale Caparaso, 59, came to Spoto in June 2008, it was his seventh coaching job in a career that has taken him to three states and two counties in Florida. In his first season, the Spartans finished 6-4 in the regular season before falling to DeSoto County in the first round of the Class 3A state playoffs. 

After the season was over, Dale couldn’t help but think about the what ifs; the players who should have been able to play, but couldn’t because of grades. 

“We were a good football team without them,” he said. “We would have been an exceptional football team with them.”

That following summer, Anne’s tutoring sessions started with just a few kids who needed extra attention. Now she can proudly rattle off a list of college athletes she’s helped. 

Perhaps no one benefited more than wide receiver Geronimo Allison.

The 2012 Spoto alum was once in danger of not graduating from high school at all. Allison was a JV call-up late in the season as a freshman in 2008, but the 6-foot-4, 185-pounder was forced to sit out his sophomore and junior seasons because of a low GPA.

Once Anne got a hold of Allison, however, everything changed. 

The summer before his senior season, Allison spent every weekday morning with Anne. After football workouts, he’d often go back to the classroom, working with her late into the night. By the time August rolled around, Allison had the 2.0 he needed to compete. The results followed on the field, too.

Allison had a breakout season, recording 567 yards receiving and four touchdown receptions while adding more than 500 yards on special teams. He went on to Iowa Western Community College, where he helped lead the Reivers to a National Junior College Athletic Association championship in 2012. He graduated with his associate’s degree in three semesters. 

“Back then, I never really knew I had the opportunity to graduate from college,” Allison said. “But God works in mysterious ways, my mom always told me.”

It’s an attitude Dale said he sees far too often.

For many of his players, football has come easy. God gave them a gift of athleticism, he often tells them. But when other things, like schoolwork, don’t come as easily, some of his players think they’re dumb and give up. Dale refuses to give credence to that argument.

“You failed algebra because you think you can’t do algebra, yet you’re going to come on my football field and learn our defensive package, which is eight different defensive fronts, 96 different defensive blitzes and nine different coverages?” he said. “If you can do that, a-squared plus b-squared equals c-squared is pretty darn easy if you just listen.”

It may have taken him longer, but Allison has finally learned the truth in that. After finishing at Iowa Western, he signed with Illinois, posting a second-best 598 yards and five touchdowns last season. He will graduate in December with a bachelor’s degree — his current GPA is 2.7 — then enter the 2016 NFL draft.

Sometimes, Allison thinks about what his life might look like if it hadn’t been for football, and the academic assistance that made football possible. He’d probably be working some normal job or be back in Progress Village, the low-income housing suburb where he grew up. 

“A lot of people don’t make it out of that area. It’s known for that,” he said. “But Coach Cap and Anne really took the time out and invested their time into me, their life into me, to make something of myself. Really, it’s a blessing how far I came.”

• • •

It’s not uncommon for Anne to have just three or four students show up to tutoring on a given weekday morning. On other days, it’s a packed house, filled even with students whose GPAs are well above the eligibility standard.

“Most of them don’t have mom and dad at home cracking the whip, but they know they need to do it,” she said. “Then you realize, ‘You know what, it’s worth it.’ They just need the structure.”

This summer, Anne said some students have been showing up sporadically, putting in extra work here and there to give themselves a cushion. Williams hasn’t skipped a single day.

After two seasons at Jefferson, Williams transferred to Spoto with a 1.7 GPA. Now, with 14 Division-I offers in his pocket, he’s trying to make up for past mistakes. The senior and three-star recruit is taking three classes this summer, currently making As in all of them, Dale said. 

The Caparasos are confident Spoto’s new quarterback will graduate with the 2.3 he needs to play college ball. 

“I think if I had stayed (at Jefferson), I would be okay, but not as okay as I am now,” he said. “I think it was a benefit coming here. … I feel grateful for (the academic support), because I know at other schools, they don’t have nothing like that.”

The enthusiasm Dale has for his career can be heard in his booming voice and seen in the wide grin he flashes when talking about his kids. And like any coach, he measures success not only by results, but by improvement. And for much of that, he has Anne to thank.

After 34 years coaching football, Caparaso has thought about hanging up the whistle soon. And when he does so, he’ll rest easy.

“I feel really good that, as I get into the twilight of my career … that (Anne and I) have set some pretty solid foundations for our kids here,” he said. “Not only in terms of being successful on the field, but being successful in areas that our kids aren’t normally used to being successful.”

Contact Kelly Parsons at kaparsons@tampabay.com. Follow @_kellyparsons.

New academic standards

To play college sports in 2016, recent high school grads need:

• To complete 16 core courses (classes in English, math, various sciences, foreign language, etc.)

• Graduate with 2.3 GPA in those core courses

• Have an SAT/ACT score that matches GPA on a sliding scale (higher the GPA, lower the qualifying test score can be)


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